We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

Wearing face masks in public is presently illegal in Hong Kong and compulsory in Wuhan

Michael Jennings

Forest fires, bank bailouts and resilience

The recent massive Australian bushfires have provoked a lot of controversy, with some people claiming that this is largely driven by Man-made global warming, and others pointing to how other factors (not necessarily to the exclusion of such warming) were to blame, including changes to how forests/habitats are managed. For example, I have seen it stated that bans on “controlled burns” and clearances of woodland in the early growing seasons, are a big factor in causing this disaster.

I sense from watching reports in parts of the mainstream media that commentaries on controls on forest clearance, controlled burns and so on have tended to be few and far between. I suspect that the topic isn’t popular in those places pushing the “Man is destroying Mother Earth with C02” narrative, because it gets in the way. But surely it seems to me that such a viewpoint is counterproductive: the general public understands that firebreaks, clearances and selective thinning of woodland, etc, are part of a solution. (A firebreak is like a bulkhead in a ship.) And let’s not forget that some species of plant only germinate after a fire. Fire, in fact, is a part of agriculture. For centuries, farmers have burned certain waste vegetation, which is often good for the soil in releasing certain nutrients. A few years ago in the UK, farmers burned straw after harvest. This practice was banned in the UK in the early 90s largely because a few idiot farmers did not make wide firebreaks around their fields and in some cases, burned when there was a wind. The ash and the smoke upset people and scared a few. But one of the benefits of stubble burning was that it created a clean seed bed for crops, and farmers did not have to spend so much money and fuel cultivating the soil (which is good for the environment) or on herbicides and other chemicals (ditto).

So, controlled burns are and should be a perfectly normal part of intelligent curation of habitats and farmland, when done in a sensible way. The US-based Property and Environment Research Center, or PERC, has a good overview on this topic.

It is surely better to let things burn in a controlled way, rather than allow a whole coastal region of a continent such as Australia go up in a fireball, destroying hundreds of millions of animals and killing people. But such is the grip of this focus on the mono-causal explanation of the fires (blaming it on climate change) that little will be done, I fear. And in a way one of the things I detest most about the age in which we live is how fashionable opinion fastens itself on a simple, but often unattainable goal – eliminating all fossil fuels and hoping this achieves a result in a few thousand years – rather than taking more practical and verifiable steps to handle a situation, such as managing forests more intelligently. There is this toxic mix of virtue-signalling, State regulation bossiness and pettiness, coupled with hostility towards private sector solutions and property rights (such as allowing owners of land to cut trees and thin out brush). The result is catastrophe.

We saw the same sort of toxic brew around the financial crisis of 2008. Remember the old “too big to fail” problem? The problem of limited liability-owned banks not feeling the risk of going bust by imprudent lending? The moral hazard effects of taxpayer bailouts, deposit insurance and central bankers as lenders of last resort? State support for sub-prime lending?

There is a sort of rough analogy between a policy mix that does not allow forests to be thinned and occasionally burned in limited ways, and a banking system where a bank is never allowed to fail for the assets to be reallocated to more sensible uses. (The book Alchemists of Loss is a good summary of what went wrong inside banks and because of public policy.)

But with nature, so with finance. One needs to have “dead wood”, such as unprofitable lines of lending, to go out of business and for the distressed assets to be bought and restructured, much as an overgrown forest needs to be thinned out and for some areas to be cut back from time to time. This is about resilience or what Nicholas Taleb means by the term “anti-fragile”: without allowing things to die and be cut out and for a certain amount of disorder and turbulence, you end up creating something that will eventually go up in a firebomb, whether it be Australian landscapes or modern economies.

Has the BBC stopped putting bromide in its actors’ tea?

First it was Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes. Now actor-songwriter Laurence Fox has veered off the script as well.

A few days ago Fox appeared as the token sleb on the BBC’s political panel show Question Time. Whereupon…

Laurence Fox in racism row over Meghan Markle on Question Time (from the Daily Telegraph on YouTube)

Laurence Fox’s Best Question Time Moments: Climate, Markle, Racism and Labour Leadership (Guido Fawkes)

The entire episode of Question Time (BBC iPlayer)

It was fantastic for Mr Fox. He doubled his Twitter following overnight.

The actors’ union Equity helped spread the story by calling on actors to “unequivocally denounce” their fellow. Yes, those exact words. Equity has now backtracked, but it went to prove Mr Fox’s point.

Oh, and Lily Allen has told Fox to stick to acting “instead of ranting about things you don’t know about”.

How dare they solve our problem!

There is a fascinating article in today’s Observer, “Out of the lab and into your frying pan: the advance of cultured meat”.

(The best comment is from “Tintenfische”: “You call that cultured meat? Pah, not even close. Last week my steak took me to the ballet and a symposium on the evolution of beat poetry as seen through the eye of the beat.”)

The author of the article, Zoë Corbyn – I’ve always liked the name Zoë – describes the background:

To a certain extent, the science of culturing meat is relatively well understood. The process begins when a cell is taken from an animal and grown up in a lab to permanently establish a culture (called a cell line). The cells can come from a range of sources: biopsies of living animals, pieces of fresh meat, cell banks and even the roots of feathers, which JUST has been experimenting with. Cell lines can either be based on primary cells – for example muscle or fat cells – or on stem cells. Stem cells have the advantage that with different nutrients, or genetic modifications, they are able to mature into any cell type. There is also no limit to how long stem-cell lines can live, so it is possible to use them indefinitely to produce a product. Once a good cell line – for example, one that grows fast and is tasty – has been selected, a sample is introduced into a bioreactor, a vat of culture medium where the cells proliferate exponentially and can be harvested. The resulting meat cell mush can be formed into a plethora of unstructured items, from patties to sausages – with or without other ingredients added for texture. Conventional meat has a variety of cell types from which it derives its flavour, including both muscle and fat, and the companies are trying to broadly replicate that.

Not everybody is happy that this hoary science fiction trope seems to be on the point of commercial viability. Apparently an advertisement in the Brussels metro…

…contrasts a barn of cows surrounded by greenery to a “meat lab” surrounded by transmission towers. It is the work of the European Livestock Voice campaign – set up last year by a number of European farming industry groups to stress the potential social impacts of upending the meat industry.

Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them. The would-be purveyors of a guilt-free equivalent of meat to vegetarians are also opposed from the other side:

The website Clean Meat Hoax was launched last year by an informal group of 16 animal rights scholars and activists. It rails against cultured meat on the grounds that it still suggests that meat is desirable, and that animals are a resource people can draw on. It contrasts with the more pragmatic position other animal rights groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) have taken in favour of the technology on the grounds that animals’ lives will be saved. “What is incredible to me is how uncritically this technology is being celebrated and I don’t think that’s an accident – we don’t want to consider the possibility that we can stop eating animals,” says site founder John Sanbonmatsu, a philosopher at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts.

“Less pragmatic than PETA”: not a concept one meets often. I think the Clean Meat Hoax people have something in common with the opponents of vaping. What really distresses them is that after all their years of exhortations to make the smokers or meat eaters repent, the jammy bastards might be enabled to cease doing the bad thing just like that, with no redeeming pain.

“With it being Asians, we can’t afford for this to be coming out.”

From the Times:

“Police chief: we ignored sex abuse of children”

Race fears stopped us acting, victim’s father told

A senior police officer admitted that his force ignored the sexual abuse of girls by Pakistani grooming gangs for decades because it was afraid of increasing “racial tensions”, a watchdog has ruled.

After a five-year investigation, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) upheld a complaint that the Rotherham officer told a missing child’s distraught father that the town “would erupt” if it was known that Asian men were routinely having sex with under-age white girls.

The chief inspector is said to have described the abuse as “P*** shagging” and to have said it had been “going on” for 30 years: “With it being Asians, we can’t afford for this to be coming out.”

His incendiary language features in a confidential report by the watchdog that upholds six complaints against South Yorkshire police by a former child victim of sexual exploitation.

But it did come out.

-*-

Some earlier Samizdata posts that are relevant:

If you do not want to see the BNP vindicated, try not proving them right

Politically correct evasiveness fails on its own terms

Want to blame someone for Rotherham? Lets start with the Guardian…

Grooming gangs in Rochdale and Rotherham raped with impunity and you won’t believe why!

You keep using that word “economy”. I do not think it means what you think it means.

“UK green economy has shrunk since 2014”, laments the Guardian.

The number of people employed in the “low carbon and renewable energy economy” declined by more than 11,000 to 235,900 between 2014 and 2018, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Green businesses fared little better, seeing their numbers drop from an estimated 93,500 to 88,500 over the same four-year period.

[…]

Critics of the Conservative government’s record of support for the low carbon and renewables sector blamed the Treasury’s dramatic cut in subsidies to the solar power industry for the sudden loss of employment.

Solar panel installers were among the many businesses connected to the industry that went bust after the Treasury cut subsidy payments by 65% in 2015 before abolishing them altogether last year.

Obligatory “Princess Bride” clip for those benighted souls who haven’t seen it.

For a brief moment, my heart leapt with joy…

A few days after the recent election, whilst walking down the street near Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, I noticed this sticker & my heart leapt with joy. With enormous regret, I had just voted Tory as I live in what was the most marginal Labour seat in the UK (20 vote Labour majority), and it did indeed turn blue by a narrow margin (150 vote Tory majority). Suddenly I did not feel so bad about voting ‘Conservative’.

But upon closer examination, I realised that far from being a Conservative sticker, it was without doubt propaganda designed to produce the opposite reaction to the one I experienced. Not hard to understand the thinking, as to people who produced this sticker, it was inconceivable that anyone actually wanted to see the NHS privatised. Indeed, I do not either, I want to see it abolished completely, but I would settle for genuine privatisation 😉

Hollywood values

Yeah, it’s a soap opera, at least for us Americans. But what’s so fascinating about it, at least to me, is how the values of Hollywood, and one insecure, narcissistic American actress, have the power to shake the British throne. How threatening to denounce the Queen of England as a racist and a sexist is a thing that her grandchildren would do — and how it might work to manipulate her into doing their bidding. This reveals what real power looks like in the 21st century.

So writes Rod Dreher, piling on about Harry and Meghan (formerly of the UK Royal Family, so it appears at the time of writing). So much has been written and said that it is difficult to add much further. It is, however, interesting to note that one development in parts of the Web is how Harry is being used by “manosphere” commentators as an example of how not to behave and of the sort of mistakes men can make in selecting long-term relationships. There is, to give one case, a chap called Richard Cooper, based in Canada (I bet the Canadian taxpayers are delighted about having to look after Harry and Meghan’s security), and he has a site called Entrepreneurs in Cars. Another commentator who writes books about “red pill awareness” for men when it comes to women is Rollo Tomassi (this is his pen-name, and he’s a fan of the film LA Confidential, which is where the name comes from). Some of these men appear to be fans of evolutionary psychology, and make a big deal about the concept of hypergamy (the idea that women in their younger adult years look for “Alpha” males to have lots of hot sex with and switch to more tame “Beta” males as they reach the stage when they want to have babies, but still at times crave for the Alpha male, which is why they can quickly ditch a husband when they get bored, and are protected more than before by Western divorce laws, which tend to favour women in things such as custody of kids. As with all such notions, these are generalisations, and there are plainly exceptions). The take-away from all this is that Harry is very much now a Beta, having been a bit more of an Alpha male during his Army, helicopter-flying, dancing naked in Vegas, days. And as he becomes more Beta, and goes along with his wife’s social justice warrior views, and all the rest of this stuff, he loses his sense of self and assertiveness. Such men can lash out, or become addicted to various substances, or worse.

What interests me about the H&M case isn’t so much what it says about the pros and cons of a constitutional monarchy in this age (I am a supporter in the very limited sense), but more about what it says about the state of our culture. And as we classical liberals/libertarians need to remember, political ideas don’t operate in a vacuum. A culture that puts a premium on victimhood, that makes excuses, etc, is toxic for liberty and autonomy. In a different context, the desire of this young couple for “financial independence” would be congruent with a libertarian outlook if they weren’t also desiring to make use of an institution like the Royal family.

I actually feel some sympathy for Harry, in particular. He had no choice to be born a royal, and I for one don’t criticise him for wanting to get out of the limelight, so long as he does not try to play both sides of this situation.

One thing that strikes me is that Harry doesn’t seem, as far as I can see, to have any close male buddies that he can hang out with, for example. He has a brother (from whom he appears to be distant these days), but where are the mates, the guys he can fish with, drink beer with, play sports with and so on? Every man, no matter how happily married, needs to have such a network of pals. One thing I pride myself on is that I haven’t allowed my circle of friends to collapse after getting hitched. Social media is not a substitute. In Harry’s case, he was in the Army, and he went through the banter, teasing and discomforts of being a soldier. I cannot help but think that things went downhill for him when he left the Army.

Anyway, I promise not to write about this couple again.

Titania McGrath takes to the stage

Whilst the British ‘comedy’ circuit has long been the preserve of the Left, events have taken a dramatic turn as Titania McGrath, radical socialist, feminist, intersectionalist, Twitter SJW par excellence and all-round good egg has escaped from Twitter into real life and has brought her insight to the stage.

The Culture War rages on.

Two snapshots of our times

1) Eurogamer reports,

PC Specialist ad banned for perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes

An advert for a bespoke PC retailer was banned for perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes of women.

The TV ad, below, for UK retailer PC Specialist, begins with a computer exploding, then shows three men getting excited over using a PC Specialist PC for gaming, making music and coding.

[…]

The Advertising Standards Authority received eight complaints from people who said the ad perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes by depicting men in roles that were stereotypically male, and implied it was only men who were interested in technology and computers.

PC Specialist responded to the watchdog to say its customer base was 87.5 per cent male, aged between 15 and 35 years, and “their product, branding and service had been developed for and aimed at that target audience and the characters in the ad therefore represented a cross-section of the PC Specialist core customer base”.

Ten years ago the Advertising Standards Authority would have said something like, “We just want you to stop portraying women as laughably incompetent at computers until a man helps them. Surely that’s fair? After all, some women are great at computers.” At that time it must have seemed ridiculous to make a fuss about freedom of speech when faced with such a reasonable request. But when the beast is fed it grows stronger.

2) And from the BBC:

Sheffield students paid to tackle racist language on campus

A university is to hire 20 of its own students to challenge language on campus that could be seen as racist.

The University of Sheffield is to pay students to tackle so-called “microaggressions” – which it describes as “subtle but offensive comments”.

They will be trained to “lead healthy conversations” about preventing racism on campus and in student accommodation.

Vice-chancellor Koen Lamberts said the initiative wanted to “change the way people think about racism”.

The students will be paid £9.34 per hour as “race equality champions”, working between two and nine hours per week to tackle “microaggressions” in the university.

These are described as comments or actions which might be unintentional, but which can cause offence to a minority group.

It gives examples of what it means by microaggression – such as:

  • “Stop making everything a race issue”
  • “Why are you searching for things to be offended about?”
  • “Where are you really from?”
  • “I don’t want to hear about your holiday to South Africa. It’s nowhere near where I’m from”
  • “Being compared to black celebrities that I look nothing like”

    Rather than being about controlling people’s speech, the university says it is “opening up a conversation”.

  • Judging from the first two examples, they are allowed to open the conversation but you are not allowed to close it.

    Sir Roger Scruton (1944-2020) RIP

    “Falling to the bottom in my own country, I have been raised to the top elsewhere, and looking back over the sequence of events I can only be glad that I have lived long enough to see this happen. Coming close to death you begin to know what life means, and what it means is gratitude.”

    Sir Roger Scruton, academic, writer and supporter of East European dissidents, died yesterday after a short illness. I knew he was getting on in years but his death nevertheless came as a shock to me. I did not agree with all of his views, but I did on most of them, and he was one of those men I regard as a defender of liberty and of civilisation in its fullest sense.

    I met him when I was only 22, having recently graduated from my college. I had contributed a couple of small items towards the Salisbury Review journal that he edited, and was invited to a wonderfully posh and fun black-tie dinner at Hatfield House, ancestral home of the Salisbury dynasty, and joined by such luminaries as the journalist T E Utley, and Enoch Powell. I remember – this being 1988 – that Powell spoke with his customary intensity about Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges Group speech of that time, and remembered thinking that this issue over Europe would dominate much of our politics. I wasn’t wrong.

    When you are a young graduate, making your way in the world and trying to get the advice of clever people, it makes a lot of difference when the folk you meet and admire turn out to be great as people. Roger Scruton was one of them – I remember his wit, kindness and helpful advice. The same applied around the same time when I met two outstanding thinkers: Anthony Flew, and David Friedman (son of Milton Friedman). A few years later I met P J O’Rourke, who was hilarious and full of encouragement towards me as I told him I was a trainee journalist. I had the same experience when I met Auberon Waugh once. It really matters that people whom you meet like this give the time and trouble to talk to young people, and I try and remember that when, now that I am in my greying middle age, that youngsters whom I come up against ask me about what I do. Scruton was a model of the good and considerate teacher.

    It has been remarked elsewhere that Scruton was more admired abroad than he was in the UK, and that applies of course to the UK’s education establishment, much of which is dominated by the Left. His book, Thinkers of The New Left, is one of his most brilliant, and dissected the likes of Foucault, Derrrida, Heidegger and Althusser – a veritable gallery of knaves and fools. Their defenders weren’t happy, and Scruton’s chances of academic grandeur suffered. He taught in the US, wrote more books and ran a farm. In middle age, he took up horse riding and hunting with hounds with a zeal of a convert. In some ways he was a bit of a paradox: the grammar school boy with a bit of a rebellious streak, except that for him, being a true rebel meant being conservative rather than a socialist. It is a quality I share in some ways, as do many of those who write for this blog.

    I think that history will be kind to him: his focus on issues such as understanding the importance of beauty in human life, for example, will last a bit longer than some present obsessions, including, I hope, the intellectual cul-de-sac of “woke” politics. (Here is an obituary in the National Review, from the US.)

    All that remains is for me to express my condolences to his family and many friends. In particularly, I think of those people in Eastern Europe he helped, at some risk to himself, during the years ahead of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Unlike some academics, he was also a man of action and he was brave as a lion. RIP, Sir Roger.

    Plus ça change…

    I’ve been rootling around in the Samizdata archives (more of which to come, perhaps) and I found this:

    In the bubbled, hypocritical mind of some in Hollywood, the only reason Gervais crossed a line is because he went after them. Had he been as relentless in ripping apart Sarah Palin, her young children, Jesus Christ, or George W. Bush, today the comedian would be celebrated as “edgy” and “courageous” — because only in Hollywood is throwing red meat to a hard-left crowd considered “edgy” and “courageous.” But Gervais didn’t do that. Instead, he trained his satirical fire on Hollywood Power and today there’s serious talk about whether or not the comedian will be brought back to the Golden Globes next year as host.

    As you can probably guess from the mentions of Sarah Palin and George W. Bush this is from a while ago – January 19th 2011, to be precise.

    Ever got the feeling you’ve been cheated?